This blog addresses various emotional aspects of experiencing infertility. It is written by a clinical psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your journey!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For the infertility "veterans"--psychological implications of long-term infertility treatment

Infertility treatment, whatever it's duration, is stressful and often difficult. For the majority of people, however, it's of relatively short duration--within a year or two, a pregnancy is achieved or a diagnosis is clarified, leading to a different path.

On the other hand, there is significant subset of infertility patients for whom treatment spans many years, sometimes even more than a decade, before any sort of resolution occurs. Perhaps this occurs because there is no clear diagnostic picture, or because they have tried multiple, time-consuming ways to build their family without success. Sometimes, life circumstances require them to take longer breaks from treatment. Whatever the case, being in infertility treatment for a prolonged period of time can definitely take its toll on a person.

Bitterness is often the main worry of the veteran infertility patient. After so many disappointments, it can feel hard to be hopeful for the future. Watching friends, family, and coworkers create their own families with less effort and stress makes them feel chronically isolated. Despite their best efforts, these feelings may seep into other aspects of their lives and relationships.

Further, one of the hardest parts of infertility "veteran" status is that after years of trying and failing, an individual can start to feel alienated even from the infertility community itself. I have had more than one client in this situation discuss how they feel they are left behind by all of their infertility friends who go on to have treatment success. Unbelievably, he or she begins to feel envious of other infertility patients. It can start to seem that all the other patients in the waiting room have a better chance of success. When listening to the emotional experiences of "newbies", or those just entering infertility experience, the "veteran" often feels irritated and impatient. The mix of hopefulness along with the anxiety that is so common in the beginning stages of infertility treatment is often painful to hear--the veteran remembers all too well how he or she used to feel hopeful as well, only to end up with multiple painful disappointments. Usually, the veteran infertility patient feels ashamed or guilty about feeling envious, impatient, and irritated with other people, because he or she really wants to be helpful and share his or her hard-won expertise. It is often difficult to recognize that in addition to our altruistic impulses, we also experience negative emotions such as envy and anger. Sometimes, this dilemma can have a further negative impact on the veteran's self-esteem, on top of the damage done by years of protracted infertility.

On the positive side, veteran infertility patients have almost always learned from their prior experiences, and are extremely wise and educated participants in their treatment. They have a clearer idea of what they expect from their doctors and clinics, and they usually make excellent treatment decisions. In addition, they know from experience they are resilient, and that they are survivors. They can be empathic to others who are suffering from a variety of life crises, because they have themselves been in crisis for years. They understand how complex emotions and relationships can be. I believe that when veteran infertility patients do become parents, they are extremely well prepared for the stresses involved in raising a child.

If you find yourself in the "veteran" camp, know that you aren't there all by yourself. For instance, I'm right there with you--with an eleven year infertility treatment history (or as I jokingly call it, an "infertility lifestyle"). It's important for infertility veterans to recognize all the knowledge and strength they have gained from their experiences. Learning things the hard way is probably the most effective form of education, and being an expert has its advantages.

Also, I think the most important thing infertility veterans need to do is to keep trying to achieve their goals, in whatever way they feel will be most successful for them. The temptation to give up is strong, especially when faced with the possibility of future disappointments. However, the risk of profound future regret is real. Thus, endurance, and lots of it, is vital to this process. In order to maintain their ability to keep going, infertility veterans must take special care of themselves to ensure that they do not become emotionally and physically depleted. Being in a chronic state of crisis is exhausting, and it requires good emotional support to not become overwhelmed. Further, pacing is key here--a person can't be full-steam ahead in infertility treatment all the time! Making time for pleasurable personal interests--hobbies, friends, travel, etc., can be really helpful.

Finally, I sincerely hope that if you are an infertility veteran, your infertility career will be over soon, and you will soon have the family you for which you have worked so hard! I would love to hear about your own experiences and perspectives! As always, please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for further topics.


  1. Thanks for posting this! 5.5 years and still waiting for resolution and I can definitely see how I have changed over time. Most ways though, the changes have been a positive.

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  2. thank you thank you, THANK YOU for this post!!! I have been having all these feelings lately, and then I feel guilty for having them. There is even someone at work who I found out had been trying for a half a year longer than I have, and just "turned up" pregnant. It was just before she was to finally start testing(she had her HSG scheduled). So while they had been "TTC" for 3 years, they hadn't ever pursued treatment....it makes me 1st wonder "why didn't they pursue treatment? Were they not really wanting it as bad as us?" and 2ndly it makes me jealous because they didn't have to spend a dime on treatments, but we've been in and out of treatments for the past 2 years, and over $45,000 later we are still childless. Then she just bought a brand new lexus. I could've paid one of those off by now! I feel guilty for these feelings, but it doesn't mean I don't feel them.

  3. As always, a wonderful post. You have such good ability to look at the bright side of a situation that, to the person experiencing it, is so dreary. My heart goes out to all these lovely people who have struggled far too long. Like you said, I pray that every one going through this battle finds their happy ending.

  4. Excellent post. As a five plus year person, although not all that time has been in treatment, I also get exasperated when newbies conceive within 2 years and say they are infertile. I guess we get so stuck in "whose pain is worse" that we forget that we are all in this together, no matter how long, each person is relevant. I agree about making better decisions though.

  5. I loved reading this post. It describes all the aspects of where I am at..... Eight years down the line. I found it comforting that my feelings are real. Great Blog. I look forward to reading more.

  6. What a great post. I was directed here by a blog friend (above).
    Nine years of IF and 4 m/c's for me - I now have a beautiful daughter through adoption (a route we didn't want to take initially, not wanting to "give up on ourselves"). :-)
    Thank you.

  7. What a fantastic post! As an ex IF Vet (almost 8 years ttc, 7 m/c's, 5 IVF's) I'm now also blessed through the miracle of adoption. Having finally achieved the dream I can honestly say I still totally relate to what you have written above. Once an IVF Vet always an IVF vet I believe. While the pain of my infertility has lessened the person it has made me has not changed through motherhood.

  8. Great post !
    Will come and visit again, while we are waiting for our adoption referal ...

  9. Great post!
    I have been trying to conceive from last 7 years. Have had no. of IUI and IVF but nothing has happened yet. I can't tell anyone how desperately I want to be a mom. All this has created a lot of stress in my life although I am trying my level best to come out of this stress stage now.
    I would like to wish good luck to all the women who are trying to conceive..GOOD LUCK!

  10. This is a great post I hope you continue to help people the way you do.

  11. Thank you for this post. You're right that it is extremely isolating, but reading this helps in some small way.

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  13. It is a great share! I think private fertility clinics are best for the treatment as it provides more facilities and technologies!

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